This week, exam board AQA announced that it would no longer be offering art-history A level. Critics took to Twitter and accused Michael Gove, when he was education secretary, of attacking subjects that he saw as lacking in academic rigour.
In response, Mr Gove fired off a flurry of Tweets, insisting that it seemed AQA was withdrawing the subject for purely commercial reasons, and that it was nothing to do with his views on the subject.
He began by saying:
1/Concerned about decision by AQA to ditch History of Art A-level. Nonsense that this has anything to do with our drive to raise standards— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) 13 October 2016
2/It appears to be a decision taken by a single exam board driven by commercial factors - and it provokes several questions— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) 13 October 2016
This summer, the subject was taken by just 839 pupils. AQA was the last exam board in England to offer it at A level.
Mr Gove said that the low take-up of the subject raised several questions.
3/Why were so few state schools offering the subject? Why aren't more heads anxious to promote it? Who on earth thinks it's "soft" - not me— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) 13 October 2016
He then went on to reassert his support for the subject:
4/Our reforms were about celebrating rigour - and History of Art properly taught stretches minds and expands sympathies -— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) 13 October 2016
AQA's decision stems from government changes to A levels in England which have required new syllabuses in all subjects.
The teacher who led the team developing the new A-level specification for art history has also made a plea to AQA to give the subject a stay of execution.
Sarah Phillips, head of the subject at a private school and a state sixth-form college, said that she was saddened that the board made the decision to withdraw the subject this week as the reformed A level would have been the most accessible ever.
Ms Phillips, who is head of art history at St Catherine’s, Bramley, and Goldalming College, both in Surrey, said the group developing the new A level had worked closely with museums, art galleries and universities.
'Give us a stay of execution'
The group had hoped that the modest numbers of pupils taking the subject would rise as the new exam would take a much broader, global approach to art history.
"What I would love more than anything else is for AQA to reconsider their decision to axe it and give the new specification a chance,” she said. “If we could have a stay of execution and run it for a couple of years from September, the problem with small entry numbers will go away.”
AQA has said that students taking the current course will not be affected, and will be able to take their AS-level exams in 2017 and A-level exams in 2018.
'Too many risks'
A spokeswoman for AQA added that the decision to drop the subject arose from factors including low uptake, difficulties establishing grade boundaries, and the high number of options available.
She said: "Our number-one priority is making sure every student gets the result they deserve. We've identified three subjects – archaeology, classical civilisation and history of art – where the complex and specialist nature of the exams creates too many risks on that front.
"That's why we've taken the difficult decision not to continue our work creating new AS and A levels in these subjects."